1 World Trade Center: The ultimate corner office

Construction on 1 World Trade Center: What it's like to work the cranes atop the tallest building in North America.

Top of the world, Ma

Let's start with the rebar, because that's what gets lifted onto the site more than just about anything. A bundle, some 2,500 pounds' worth, arrives on a flatbed that pulls into a narrow lane between two avenues in downtown Manhattan. The lane is blocked off, secure, and in the shadow of the tallest building in North America: 1 World Trade Center. The rebar, if it's headed to the very top, has 1,368 feet to go, straight up. That's 105 floors.

Steel is the skeleton of the structure, and the rebar will be handled by dozens of the 1,000 men and women working the tower. Pat Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the site, pulls up yesterday's steel report on his BlackBerry. "We installed 121 pieces, welded the 104th-floor column splices, spread steel decking on the 105th floor, and lost nothing to weather." Meaning? "If it's raining or winds are above 30 miles, we've got to stop." Yesterday was hot and hazy; today is the same. Work isn't stopping, so let's follow that rebar.

From 1,200 feet the city sounds like a dull drone. Tom Gordon leans out in his seat and stares down, like a fisherman attempting to glimpse his bait. He's looking at the bundle of steel far below. Gordon operates a slide crane on the 91st story -- though, as the name suggests, the crane slides up as the tower gets built. The building topped out last week, so in a few months Gordon's crane will come down, piece by piece, carried by another crane on the roof. For now, his operating cabin in the slide crane on the north face of 1 World Trade is the ultimate corner office.

Gordon laughs at that notion and admits as much. It's quiet up here once the thrum of the 500-horsepower diesel fades to the background. The rebar, like other heavy loads, isn't as tricky to lift as the lighter stuff, like window panes, which catch the wind. Gordon's got maybe 20 feet for error, not much when considering there are thousands of pounds attached to a 900-pound ball attached to 1,000 feet of cable moving up and over toward the tower and the platform on the 93rd floor where concrete workers are waiting for it.

Gordon goes silent while the crane slowly turns clockwise, the rebar rising across the horizon line, approaching the building. It's an eerie image for a moment, the bundle of steel moving toward the tower. Ken Klemens, a master mechanic standing outside Gordon's cabin, says the memory of the tragedy that preceded this place is inescapable, even 1,200 feet up. "This is the best job we never wanted," he says.

  @FortuneMagazine - Last updated August 29 2012 11:16 AM ET
Join the Conversation
Where Weber grills are born

The iconic grill has been a backyard staple in America for years. Now it's trying to catch fire in India.

The secrets of See's Candies
The death of cash
Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.